by John Ellis
Chances are that the Second Amendment produces a strong emotion in many of us. And while emotions do contain epistemic value, strong emotions unchecked tend to create an unhelpful tunnel vision while in disagreement with others. Because of this, debates about gun control and the Second Amendment are often pointless endeavors, if not harmful. On both sides of the debate, an unwillingness to acknowledge, much less interact with, complicated nuances combined with unexamined political and ideological assumptions go a long way to creating a debate environment that produces a painful din. For myself, while I do have opinions and beliefs about gun control, I hold them so loosely as to conclude that it would be inappropriate for me to publicly argue for my opinions and beliefs. You’ll be hard pressed to find articles of mine about gun control because those articles do not exist. I do, however, believe the debate is important for Kingdom ethics. And I desire to formulate my own thoughts and arguments to a deep enough degree where I believe I can add a helpful voice to the debate. Because of all this – the often pointless if not harmful din drowning out active listening and my own under-formulated opinion/arguments – I have been looking forward to The Gospel Coalition’s Good Faith Debates’ episode about gun control.
In the episode, embedded below, American pastor Bob Thune and British pastor Andrew Wilson engage in a, well, good faith debate in which they demonstrate charity and humility without sacrificing a commitment to their own opinions and beliefs. I found their debate helpful in my own continued thinking through the issue. I encourage you to listen to the debate without an a priori surrendering of your own opinions and beliefs but with a level of epistemic humility that allows your opinions and beliefs to be challenged.
Stepping back from episode one, I want to briefly comment on the Good Faith Debates series as a whole. In the issue of full disclosure, the moderator Jim Davis is my pastor and friend. He and I have discussed the debates. When I first heard about them, my initial response is probably best described as curious cynicism. While I appreciate TGC’s desire to model how to engage in disagreement with love and humility, I’m not sure how much it’s going to move the needle on how we debate within the broader evangelical community. That’s not to say that I think TGC is wasting their time, because as I’ve written in other places, the ends can’t be separated from the means. In fact, for Christians the means bear ethical responsibility for us that the ends do not. TGC is not responsible for how their Kingdom ethically shaped and executed debates are received. If the comment sections under the debates on YouTube devolve into the usual dumpster fire of vitriol and ignorance, that’s on the commenters and not TGC.
That being said, my cynicism took a hit yesterday when listening to Collin Hansen and Jim Davis talk about the series on Hansen’s podcast. Paraphrasing Hansen, TGC has the desire to game the online algorithms, so to speak. Many people in our churches are unduly swayed after falling into the rabbit hole of YouTube videos. For whatever reason (to make money), the algorithms often steer us into the worst fruitions of discussion. Personally, I’ve talked to many people who reference what to me are obviously questionable sources (at best) when arguing newly found positions. Many times, those sources are in the form of a YouTube video or blog post that the online algorithm recommended to them while they were caught in that online rabbit hole that we’ve (probably) all fallen down. TGC wants to try and insert the Good Faith Debates into those rabbit holes. Maybe, just maybe, listening to two Christians debate controversial issues with charity and humility will provide an offramp out of the rabbit hole of online algorithms for some. That’s a commendable objective. I pray it bears fruit.
I also want to point out that my comments about Kingdom ethics and pragmatism apply to this second objective, too. However, unlike modeling charitable debates characterized by humility, trying to game the online algorithms appears to me to be a much more actionable objective. While I’m cynical that seeing/listening to a good debate will translate into better dialogue among the general population, I do believe that offering an offramp out of the rabbit hole is likely to produce results. However, and repeating myself, even if it doesn’t produce results, Kingdom ethics translate into TGC being able to say they didn’t waste their time nor resources.
Anyway, I encourage you to click play on the video below and listen with as much charity and humility as with which Thune and Wilson debated the issue of gun control.